What happens to my pets when I die?

You can leave it up to your Executor to determine what happens to them.  But I suspect that, if you are looking for an answer to this question, letting someone else decide what happens to the four legged family members is not good enough for you.  Fortunately, the Legislature also didn’t think leaving it up to your Executor was a good enough option thus, in 2006, Pennsylvania became the 32nd state to adopt a pet trust law.  You can now create a trust to provide for the care and maintenance of your pets that were living at the time of your death.  The trust terminates when the animal dies or, if you are providing for the care of more than one pet, at the death of the last surviving animal.  Through this trust document you can set aside money for the specific purpose of caring for your pet.  You can also direct where the pet is to live and appoint a successor caregiver as you would for a guardian of children or an alternate executor.  Pet trusts are particularly useful when you have an animal with costly medical bills, or that requires some sort of special care.  You also know your pet better than anyone and are the best person to determine who can care for it.  Continue Reading Commonly Asked Estate Planning Questions – Day Three

What is Probate?

The formal definition is the process by which an estate is formally established for a decedent and representatives are appointed to handle the decedent’s affairs.  Probate is not always necessary.  Depending on the nature of the asset, some can transfer outside of the probate process.  These assets are generally assets that are jointly titled with right of survivorship or assets that contain beneficiary designations.  If you are unsure how your assets will transfer, it is important to speak with an attorney.  Check back on the Lancaster Law Blog in a few weeks for more information on the probate process and whether it is necessary to avoid it.

What happens if I lose my Will?

The short answer is DON’T!  But in all seriousness, life happens and accidents happen.  Wills can be misplaced, written on, or destroyed.  I try to emphasize to my clients the importance of keeping your documents in a safe place, see yesterday’s post for more.  But what happens if you have tried to keep it safe, and a freak asteroid comes along and destroys your Will?  Well if you were lucky enough to be standing anywhere other than where the asteroid hit and you have capacity, I highly suggest redrafting your Will.  Remember you can always redo your Will so long as you have capacity to do so.  If you happen to be holding your Will when the asteroid hit, well, you obviously won’t be redoing it. At that point, hopefully a copy of the Will exists.  That is the first hurdle.  I say hurdle because probating a copy is not an easy process. The person or people trying to submit the copy to probate must prove that the copy is the same as the lost Will.  This can be done with two competent witnesses attesting to the execution and contents of the Will.  This process can take a while and involves a hearing.

So do your best to keep your Will in a safe place, but if it is destroyed or misplaced, it’s not the end of the world.  As for the asteroid, I guess that will depend on the circumstances.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning.

What is a Special Needs Trust and why would I need one?

A Special Needs Trust is a device that allows for those receiving public benefits for a disability to still be able to enjoy the benefit of inheritance, gifts, or other transfers of wealth.  Typically in order to receive Medical Assistance or Supplemental Security Income, a person must have less than $2,000.00 in assets.  So imagine this – you have three children, one of whom receives benefits due to a disability, making that child an equal beneficiary of your estate could disqualify the child from his or her benefits, which could be catastrophic depending on the nature of the benefits.  Without a special needs trust, your options are limited.  You either disinherit your child or you cause them to lose their benefits.  With a special needs trust, you can now treat them equally under your Will and allow them to maintain his or her benefits.  Special Needs Trusts are very technical and have various requirements that need to be followed.  If you or a family member believe a special needs trust is necessary, you should consult an experienced estate planning attorney. Continue Reading Commonly Asked Estate Planning Questions- Day One

Today kicks off the 10th annual National Estate Planning Awareness Week.  I will do my best to help promote estate planning awareness by using this important week to address your questions and common myths about estate planning.

I am frequently asked a lot of similar questions from not only clients, but family and friends as well.  I also encounter numerous myths that people allow to impact their estate planning.  Over the last few years, I’ve enjoyed presenting the “Top 10 Myths of Estate Planning” to local groups in the community.  My presentation helps audiences understand that estate planning does not have to be complex or financially burdensome.  Taking the time to do some planning now, can save your family confusion and in some cases, heartache in the future. Continue Reading 10th Annual National Estate Planning Awareness Week

As summer vacation hits its peak, we sometimes start thinking about estate planning before we board the plane for that long-awaited getaway.  We’ve put it off for one reason or another but is it time to just take care of it?  Figuring out your estate plan can seem overwhelming but a qualified and thoughtful estate planning attorney will answer all of your questions and help to make it easy.

What paperwork do I need?  Who do I appoint?  What do I need to appoint someone for?  What documents do what?  Do I need a trust?  Over the last few years, we’ve published several blog articles to help you sort through it all.  Here are a few posts that will help you feel more comfortable with the process of completing your estate planning. Continue Reading Is your Estate Planning Ready for Summer Vacation?

According to this worldatlas.com report, Pennsylvania has the fifth highest percentage of residents over the age of 65. As the Pennsylvanian population ages, senior citizens face a myriad of issues they may not have thought of or planned for such as living longer than their retirement, increasing health insurance costs, being the target of scammers looking for some quick cash, needing help with their finances and health care decisions, and navigating the confusing world of Social Security and Medicare.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) recently released “A Guide to Legal Issues for Pennsylvania Senior Citizens.”  In an effort to ensure this guide is made available to anyone who may benefit from it, the PBA provides this information free of charge and did not copyright the documents. Continue Reading Legal Issues for Senior Citizens- A Guide

This is Part 3 of a series of posts analyzing the legal issues in the hit podcast S-Town, produced by the creators of Serial and This American Life. For more background, check out the introduction to the series. Although the events in S-Town occur in Alabama, for the purposes of this series, the legal analysis will be based on general principles of law and Pennsylvania law, since we’re Pennsylvania lawyers.

 SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t listened to the series yet and want to avoid spoilers, proceed beyond this point with caution.

Prior to John B.’s death, he tells host and producer, Brian Reed that Tyler Goodson and his brother Jake Goodson are each going to receive some gold when he dies.  He makes various other promises throughout his recorded interviews with Brian about someone getting something when he died.  John also had an elaborate suicide note that he kept on his computer.  He even showed it to Brian during one of their times together.  Surely with such planning, most people would assume John made a Will to ensure his final wishes were carried out.  Unfortunately, once John is dead, no Will is ever found. Continue Reading Legal Lessons from Hit Podcast, S-Town – Part 3: Will

This is Part 2 of a series of posts analyzing the legal issues in the hit podcast S-Town, produced by the creators of Serial and This American Life. For more background, check out the introduction to the series. Although the events in S-Town occur in Alabama, for the purposes of this series, the legal analysis will be based on general principles of law and Pennsylvania law, since we’re Pennsylvania lawyers.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t listened to the series yet and want to avoid spoilers, proceed beyond this point with caution.

Chapter 3 picks up after the shocking end of Chapter 2, wherein the listener learns that John B. has killed himself.  It quickly becomes apparent that while John had talked about suicide for years, even keeping a lengthy suicide note on his computer, he did not plan to have his loved ones taken care of after his death.

John B. was the primary care taker for his mother, Mary Grace.  John led people to think she was suffering from some form of dementia, although an actual diagnosis is never given.  When John dies, someone had to care for Mary Grace.  There was a battle between Tyler Goodson, a younger friend and sometime employee of John and Rita and Charlie, cousins of John.  At first listen, Tyler seems to be the reasonable choice.  He knows Mary Grace well, seeing her almost daily.  He had been helping John B. around the property for years.  Tyler considered Mary Grace to be part of his family, even referring to her as Mama.  Rita and Charlie on the other hand, seem to appear out of nowhere and now want to take over Mary Grace’s care.  While the listener is given both sides of the story, it is never clear who has pure motives or who is trying to take advantage of Mary Grace.  Continue Reading Legal Lessons from Hit Podcast, S-Town – Part 2: Power of Attorney

Confession: my introduction to the legal profession started at a relatively young age, reading the popular novels by John Grisham. Of course, just like the Hollywood depictions of legal practice, Grisham’s books didn’t exactly give an accurate portrayal of the day-to-day duties of a lawyer. Fortunately for me, though my interest was piqued by those books, I quickly learned that other skills, including critical thinking and problem-solving, would be essential to my success as an attorney. I also learned that the best way to develop those skills is through reading and legal writing, which occupies the majority of my time in law practice. Continue Reading Legal Documents and Avoiding Costly Mistakes

According to Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation fame, “the three most useless jobs in the world are, in order, lawyer, congressman, and doctor.” While Ron Swanson may be my favorite television character of all time, I, of course, beg to differ with this assessment.

The above quote comes from Season 6 of Parks and Recreation, and the context is a discussion about the value of having a Will drafted by a lawyer. Ron proudly presents his Will which was handwritten by himself at age 8 on a yellow piece of notebook paper.

The Will states:

Upon my death, 

all of my belongings shall transfer 

to the man or

animal who has 

killed me. 

[several weird symbols that only the man who kills him will know] 

Ron Swanson

The burning question: would Ron’s Will be enforceable in Pennsylvania? Continue Reading Is Ron Swanson’s Will Valid in Pennsylvania?